The departure of Gary Kubiak as the Ravens offensive coordinator during last offseason was a significant loss, particularly for the running game.
The Ravens ended the season with the fewest rushing attempts, 383, in team history. They gained just 1,478 yards. The previous low was 408 in 1998 followed by 416 in 1996. The Ravens (5-11) didn't have winning records in those seasons, either, and were 4-12 in 1996, the first year they played in Baltimore after the move from Cleveland.
Under Kubiak in 2014, the Ravens rushed 448 times for 2,019 yards and finished with a 10-6 record, and they almost upset the eventual Super Bowl champions, the New England Patriots, in the AFC divisional playoff round.
The Ravens were expected to have similar success this season because they returned starting running back Justin Forsett, who had 1,266 rushing yards last season, and the entire offensive line. But the Ravens struggled running the ball consistently, and they lost Forsett when he broke his arm on Nov. 22.
But this season wasn't all about injuries or talent. Something was missing, something Kubiak carried with him to Denver, where he is the head coach of the Broncos. When he was in Denver, as offensive coordinator, Kubiak turned no-names into 1,000-yard rushers almost every season.
Denver finished with the No. 17 rushing attack during the regular season, but the Broncos averaged 4.2 yards per carry behind running backs Ronnie Hillman (863 yards rushing) and C.J. Anderson (720). The Ravens averaged 3.9 yards per carry and finished ranked No. 26.
The NFL is pass-happy, but a team can still win a championship with a strong running game and dominant defense. The Ravens had a 9-7 lead at halftime of their 24-16 loss to the Cincinnait Bengals on Sunday and three of their five possessions in the first half were nine plays or longer.
In the second half, the Ravens had only one drive of nine plays and the Bengals outscored them, 17-7. A strong running game would have helped the Ravens this season because they didn't have any big-play receivers on the outside.
During this offseason, the Ravens need to find ways to get more out of the running game, and coach John Harbaugh might want to stop coordinator Marc Trestman from pulling the plug on the running game so early in games.
There were times this season he abandoned it too quickly.
Cooling on Mallett
What happened to all the Ryan Mallett for president signs around Baltimore this week?
He was a hero after his strong performance led the Ravens to a 20-17 win against the hated Pittsburgh Steelers last Sunday. But he struggled in the second half against Cincinnati and his arm looked tired after completing 30 of 56 passes for 292 yards, one touchdown and two interceptions. He looked more like the Mallett that played for the Houston Texans.
So in two games, Mallett completed 58 of 99 passes for 566 yards with two interceptions. Backup Jimmy Clausen completed 49 of 85 passes for 555 yards with three interceptions.
Mallett has the stronger arm, but Clausen is much more mobile out of the pocket and played against higher-rated defenses in the Seattle Seahawks and Kansas City Chiefs.
Here is one other thing the Ravens might want to consider: Mallett has only been here for two weeks, but he has a little attitude about him that still needs to be adjusted.
Clausen is a team guy and it showed when he took the blame for the interception returned for a touchdown against Kansas City. It wasn't his fault, but receiver Daniel Brown was to blame because he fell down causing the interception.
That's the type of presence needed in a locker room.
Staff needs change
There will have to be some changes made in the coaching staff, and one has to come in the secondary. There were way too many breakdowns on the back end.
Harbaugh spent a lot of time working with the defensive backs. Head coaches do that some times in other areas as well, but not as much as Harbaugh with the secondary.
That's a sign that things need to change. Unfortunately, it's been that way for two years with the Ravens.
Don't count on veterans
It's great to have veteran leadership on the team, but I hope the Ravens aren't expecting some of the team's older players to have great seasons again.
The Ravens liked the chances of cornerbacks Jimmy Smith and Lardarius Webb returning to their old forms this past summer, but that didn't happen this season.
Webb, who expects his future to be at safety, looked slow in trying to run down Bengals running back Jeremy Hill during Hill's 38-yard touchdown run Sunday, and linebacker Daryl Smith, 33, played poorly. Receiver Steve Smith Sr., 36, says he will play another year, but he hasn't given the Ravens a full season in the past two years. He started off strong in 2013, but seemed to tire in the second half of the season. A ruptured Achilles tendon forced him out for the rest of the season in Week 8 of 2015.
And then there is outside linebacker Terrell Suggs, who is rehabilitating a second Achilles tear (on a different leg) that he suffered in the season opener. At age 33, how much of a difference will he make?
The Ravens have to be careful.
On Manning's return
The TV stations were already giving quarterback Peyton Manning major props when he came in during the third quarter to help rally the Broncos past the San Diego Chargers Sunday afternoon.
The earth was shaking and seas were parting. Some of the NFL experts were already talking about how Manning willed the Broncos to a 27-20 victory and then Manning just tossed cold water on the celebrations.
All he said afterward was he handed the ball off well. Manning completed just five passes for 69 yards.
If his ego was that big he could have played along with all of this nonsense. Instead, he just told the truth. I just keep liking him more and more.
What I want to know
At the state of the Ravens news conference Thursday, let's not hear anymore spin from team officials about how the Ravens played hard every game, stuck together, didn't point fingers, etc.
Enough already. Everyone has applauded the effort but that type of stuff is geared more toward recreation, high school and college levels. The Ravens are a business. It's about money, wins and losses, not moral victories and life lessons.
After losing three of the past four games to playoff teams, it's time for the Ravens to put on their big boy pants and get down to business. Let's hear something substantial about plans to fix to team, the salary cap situation for 2016, how the Ravens plan to pick at No. 6 overall compared to previous years and any changes in the front office.
I want to know how owner Steve Bisciotti felt watching his team fall to 5-11.
And one more thing: I want to know who picked out the dreaded gold uniform pants.
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